Granada, in the mountains of Spain

Granada is a magical place.  The castles, cobblestone streets, and snow-covered mountains enchant.  Not to mention the best thing ever, free tapas in all the bars!  Every time you order a glass of wine or beer, a new plate of food shows up.  We ate a lot of tapas – potato salad, “bacalao,” “jamon,” many varieties of charcuterie on bread, little fish… it was endless.  There are restaurants on every corner, and all are full late into the night.

The Spanish love going out; staying up late is part of the culture.  What happens is every day people wake up, and go to work at a normal time in the morning, then in the afternoon go home and take a “siesta.”  After some sleep, everyone goes out for tapas after 9pm and stays out until midnight (or later).  You finish the night with churros and hot chocolate, then wake up and do it all again.

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The food is good, the wine is good, the people are friendly.  Granada is a great place.

The main attraction in Granada is Alhambra, a super impressive fortress overlooking the city.  Originally built by the Moors, the complex was a palace for many sultans and kings of various empires.  All the walls are intricately carved in Islamic-style geometric patters which took centuries to complete.  It took many hours for us to explore the several different buildings, castles, sanctuaries, and colorful gardens.

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Another awesome place in Granada is the area Sacremonte.  Situated in the hills at the edge of the city, the neighborhood is a collection of houses built inside of caves.

Sacremonte

Occupied by a lot of gypsies and hippies, the houses are also home to many famous flamenco clubs. Flamenco in the streets

Flamenco in the streets

It’s also amazing how quickly you can leave Granada and be in the wilderness.  We walked from our hostel in the center to the caves in only 30 minutes, seeing nothing behind them but forest and the mountains in the distance.  Hiking, skiing, and many other outdoors adventures are in close proximity!  What’s not to love about it?

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                                                         Anti-bullfighting street art
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Sintra – A Town of Castles

Sintra, Portugal is located to the west of Lisboa, a short train ride out of the busy capital.  It is a magical mountaintop on the edge of a national park that is the home to many castles built by many conquerers.  Romans, Moors, and Christian crusaders fought many battles and all occupied the space for a time before Portuguese kings began to use the town as a weekend retreat.  Now it is one of the most touristy places in Portugal but well worth fighting the crowds to see.  From perfect castles to ruins of ancient fortresses to cobblestone hikes through thick forests, Sintra has a lot for everyone.  We didn’t actually go inside any of the castles because they are expensive and we would rather just take pictures and walk around the outside.

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Quant old houses with the Moorish Castle visible on top of the hill

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The town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (like everywhere else in Europe, it seems) and has many nice restaurants and cafes.  We brought some food for a picnic because everything in Sintra is overpriced.

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Hiking to the Moorish Castle at the top of the mountain.

SintraWe enjoyed the hike to the top.  There were amazing views and it felt like we had escaped the city life for at least a short time.

Part of the Moorish Castle in Sintra

We continued along the trail to Pena National Palace.  They made you pay like 15 Euros before you could even see anything.

 

If we had a little bit more cash to spare, we definitely would have gone inside the palace.  As it was, we felt more like hiking and enjoying some nature anyway.  Sintra was a very good escape from the big city!

 

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